In his continuing quest to expand what’s shaping up as an impressive golf course empire, Donald Trump finds himself tilting at windmills.
For this battle with Scotland’s powers that be, Trump isn’t sitting astride Rocinante with a sword in one hand and delusions of grandeur in the other. Instead, his transport of choice is a big jet emblazoned with his name. His weapons are an army of lawyers and a big bank account. And the one “delusion” that stands out is what many consider Trump’s quixotic run for the presidency, the remnants of which amounted to sporadic politically charged sound bites and a final endorsement of Mitt Romney. Thankfully that has nothing to do with the man’s love for the game and his penchant for picking up and rescuing distressed courses — which, now that we think of it, just might make him golf’s version of Bain Capital.
But let’s ditch the politics and give Trump one free hand to work his golf-magnate public-relations magic with the Scots.
First, the damned windmills. Should Scotland’s government install hundreds of wind generators up and down its famously breezy coast, he says, they’ll sully their standing as a golf destination. They’ll destroy the views from dozens of famous courses, including Trump’s brand-new links, laid out with visual majesty by Martin Hawtree on the former Balmenie Estate among the Great Dunes of Aberdeenshire, about an hour north of St. Andrews. Word is tee time reservations at nearby courses, including Royal Aberdeen and the much-lauded Castle Stuart, are up in anticipation of the Trump opening. But that all could change.
“For some insane reason, the leadership of Scotland wants to put up almost 7,000 windmills,” Trump told Fairways + Greens in mid-February. “It’s one of the great coastlines in the world, and they want to destroy it. It’s a bit of a fight, but we’ll see what happens.”
Should the plan go through, Trump says he’ll pull the plug on a prospective resort and housing development not far from the course, which opens to the public this summer. Truth to tell, that would cause many a Trump-averse local resident — especially those interviewed in a film called You’ve Been Trumped — to break into a joyful “we beat the billionaire” jig.
Still, Trump believes he has the majority of residents and the power of the potential golf traveler’s dollar behind him. He also calls the wind farms “ bad science” and environmental flim-flammery.
“The people of Scotland are having some big second thoughts. These turbines are very inefficient, not very good in terms of energy, not capable in so many different forms, and very expensive. It’s a huge mistake.
“So I’m fighting them along with half of the people in Scotland. They don’t want to see their country hurt. They’re really a negative. You look at Cape Cod and other places, where people talk about so-called green energy. I don’t think they’re green at all — all they do is kill birds. They’re a disaster ... people are getting wise to it.”
True to form, it’s Trump’s way or the highway. But to any traveler who loves golfing in far-flung places — and who doesn’t have Scotland at the top of their list? — sheer curiosity spurs us to crave a chance to play what Trump unhesitatingly calls “the best golf course in the world.” And by all accounts, he might not be far off the mark.
“It’s a big statement, but now people are agreeing with me. If you look at the PGA Tour, the heads of the tour are saying it may be the greatest course they’ve ever seen. Sandy Jones of the Ryder Cup is saying it’s one of the best. George O’Grady, who’s done an amazing job with the European Tour, is saying it’s the best he’s seen. People are giving it accolades. They’re the Great Dunes of Scotland, the biggest in the world, the same dune system as at Royal Aberdeen — they’ve been great friends of ours (and are against the windmills, too, by the way). They’re in a smaller section of the dunes; ours are like mountains. It’s completed, and we’ll open [this summer — the official date is July 10]. I don’t think there will be anything like it.”
No matter what you think of Trump the man or his place in the golf firmament, you’ve got to admire his chutzpah at even attempting to break into the Scotland game, much less talking his way to the top of the dune-heap. What’s more, he seems to relish finding a way through the classic conundrum of the modern golf developer: Build it with the promise of positive economic impact, but do so at your own political and financial risk.
He met similar resistance, halfway around the globe on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles, a decade ago when he decided to make a play for what was then Ocean Trails — a Pete Dye course built along spectacular bluffs with views of the Pacific and Catalina island from every hole … all 15 of them. Hence Trump’s interest; thanks to a massive mudslide that wiped out a chunk of the original course just weeks before its scheduled grand opening, Ocean Trails fell into receivership, which prompted the New York magnate to pool his banking resources and make a lowball offer. He jumped through the proper environmental hoops, came up with a new design plan and, more than $150 million later — a good half of it spent on shoring up the incredible 18th hole — he had himself quite the coastal conversation piece. And while Trump National Los Angeles is a place that elicits strong reactions, there’s no disputing its unmatched setting, continued media buzz and six years’ worth of daily-fee success where celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg and others are often found teeing it up.
“Frankly, it’s been amazing,” Trump says. “We’re doing tremendous business. It’s evolved into something special. It’s a great course, but it wouldn’t even have to be a great course. A famous golf architect said, ‘This location is so good, you don’t even need a course — just put 18 flags in and you’d be the best course in California.’ The beauty is, it’s my only daily-fee course. Because of the laws of California, it’s hard to take a course private on the coast. It’s an amazing place, and really reasonable in terms of pricing.”
That’s debatable with the prime morning rack rate at $275. Yet when you consider that Pebble Beach, with far less desirable weather, fetches $495, and Wynn Las Vegas in the Nevada desert gets $500 per round with the nearest ocean a half-day’s drive away, it’s a little easier to make the affordability argument for Trump (which also offers a $160 afternoon rate — perhaps the best high-end value in the Western United States).
Trump National’s cliffside atmosphere no doubt figures heavily in its allure, not only for day-to-day golfers but for the LPGA, which staged a tournament there a few years back, as well as a slew of production companies who continue to book time there for television commercials and shows such as The Big Break and Entourage. Fans of the latter will recall the classic scene filmed on the 18th green with Phil Mickelson showing less-than-stellar acting chops while Ari Gold’s longtime nemesis keels over from a heart attack.
Now that’s a tough round of golf.
Speaking of which, among average golfers the one big knock on Trump National Los Angeles is its difficulty. Several holes are tight off the tee, with little chance to retrieve an errant shot from environmentally protected native areas. Greens are large and tricky, though not wild. And when you throw capricious coastal breezes into the mix, scoring tends to soar.
“It is a tough course,” Trump acknowledges. “Some days it’s really tough with the winds, but that’s also what makes it beautiful. We have grasses you can play out of. It’s surprisingly wide [especially after Trump’s redesign, which opened up fairways well beyond the original routing], but the winds make it more narrow.”
No matter what the weather, the experience of being out there on a scenic swath of land, coupled with some impressive if controversial design elements (sorry, architecture snobs but we love the waterfalls), makes Trump National a course that somehow gets under your skin and begs for a replay. Figure in the bigger-than-life clubhouse that just might house the best golf course-based restaurant in the state, and it’s a compelling place to spend a day. A teeming tee sheet bears that out.
“We have a lot of action going on because of the incredible location. The cliffs, the views of Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean … it’s not like a lot of courses that say, ‘we’re on the Pacific,’ and they have one hole on one little point. This whole course is on the Pacific Ocean, tremendous frontage. No other course is like that. Pebble Beach isn’t like that. So it’s been a spectacular success, and almost as importantly it’s been a great aesthetic success.”
On the other side of the continent, that same, somewhat counterintuitive business strategy — take a struggling course, renovate it into a real head-turner and wait for the return on investment — led Trump to buy Doral Resort & Spa in Miami for $150 million this spring. He’ll own most of the 800-acre resort that opened in 1962, including the famed Blue Monster as well as the Red and Gold courses (but not the White across the street). The deal is set to close June 1, and at that point he’ll start sinking up to $200 million into bringing everything — the golf, the hotel, the practice facilities — up to Trump snuff. During the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, he announced that he’s handing the redesign reins to Pennsylvania-based architect Gil Hanse, who has also landed the plum job of building a new course in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. Trump said the Blue Monster will close after next year’s WGC tournament, and renovation will take up to two years.
“We’ll invest in the golf course, but the bigger money has to go to the hotel rooms and the amenities surrounding the course, the infrastructure — the buildings, the convention areas,” he says. “The Blue Monster is a great course; it’s probably the greatest 18th hole in all of golf. I’ve seen so many tournaments won and lost, mostly lost, on that hole. It’s brutal. I think the Tour is very happy I bought it [a sentiment affirmed by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem during the WGC trophy presentation to 2012 champion Justin Rose on March 11]. I have the kind of money necessary to put it back into pristine condition.”
The PGA Tour has inked a five-year extension to keep the WGC at Doral once the work of Hanse is finished, which will keep Trump in the unique position of hosting two PGA Tour tournaments on the same week (the Puerto Rico Open is played on Trump International, a Tom Kite design just east of San Juan, which he acquired in 2007).
And Trump doesn’t downplay his desire to host more high-profile events in the future. He says his 36-hole complex in Bedminster, N.J., which is located just down the road from the USGA’s Far Hills headquarters and hosted the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2009, has landed the U.S. Women’s Open — though the deal hadn’t been finalized as of mid-March. And no doubt Trump has the Scottish Open or perhaps even the Open Championship in his sights, though elbowing his namesake course into that hallowed rota may take decades.
All in all, with Scotland and Doral bringing his private, resort and daily-fee course count to 15 — with several more under consideration — Trump is on a game-changing roll. Perhaps even game-saving. Sports Illustrated golf writer Gary Van Sickle calls him “the one-man answer to the golf recession,” and it’s hard to refute that assertion. The man doesn’t just buy distressed courses, fix them and flip them; he hangs onto them and makes them part of his family. And when Trump’s gilded moniker goes on the front gates, members and players follow.
“We’ve built a great company of golf. It’s a small business for me relative to my other businesses, but — you know what? — it’s still great, and my clubs have been very successful,” he says. The Pine Valley course [Trump National Golf Club Philadelphia, down the road from famed Pine Valley Golf Club] is a good example; when I bought it, it was always highly ranked, but it wasn’t doing well, but I put my name on it, and now we are virtually sold out.”
Those are the hard numbers that make the Trump touch a reality. His brand works in the golf realm, and he’s clearly passionate about what he’s doing within and for the game. So the question remains: How much does he actually get to play these days, what with the NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, the political toe-dipping and all of his business ventures?
“That’s the hardest question,” he sighs. “There’s only so much time in the day, and you can’t do anything about it. I have a great deal of fun with the courses. I enjoy playing golf; a lot of times I’ll be playing but I’m actually working. I’ll see things people don’t see, I’ll fix things, and I’m playing golf, which is pretty good. In the old days, I’d play golf but I wasn’t working.”
Sounds like great work if you can find it.
And Trump certainly has, plus he’s pretty damned good at it and will let nothing — windmills, naysayers, the economy, whatever — slow him down.
Trump National Los Angeles seemingly has everything — great golf, food, views and weather. But it doesn’t yet have a place to lay your head, so here’s the best way to turn your next visit into a multi-night stay.
I’ve been eating well. Really well. After a couple days of enjoying the famed “Lunch Box” at Trump National’s clubhouse restaurant — every day a culinary surprise, from Mardi Gras-themed goodness to braised Korean BBQ short ribs and creative soups and salads — I now find myself waiting on one of my favorite desserts during a sunset dining session at Nelson’s, quite possibly the best spot in all of Southern California to enjoy outdoor drinks, dinner and more as the horizon melts into orange before giving way to starlit sky.
What’s on my menu tonight? The ice cream sandwich, of course. And not just any ice cream sandwich — this one is velvety vanilla ice cream nestled between rich, moist chocolate cake, all blanketed with delicious and perfectly sticky fudge.
It’s a diabetic nightmare, and yet, like so much at Terranea Resort, simply irresistible.
From the comfortable ocean-view rooms to breakfasts at Catalina Kitchen to the fun and friendly Links at Terranea par-3 golf course, Terranea is one of those resorts that offers everything the high-end traveler needs — and the perfect home-away-from-home base for a Los Angeles-area exploration, whether you’re staying in the immediate vicinity to do nothing more than sunbathe (three pools plus a 140-foot waterslide full of twists and turns) and play golf (Trump National is only a few minutes down the road) or looking for some of the best biking, hiking and beach activities in the Southland.
Terranea is a resort full of discovery. That’s what keeps us coming back — both for past favorites and new surprises.
For more information, packages and special offers from Terranea Resort, plus to watch a cool video about the Links at Terranea, visit www.terranea.com